Posted in: Nuts and Volts

What’s in the box?!

September 2014

Monster in a Box! Just one of the many Halloween projects found in the September 2014 Halloween Spectacular issue of Nuts & Volts. Just imagine that there is a Fire breathing monster inside trying to escape! Activated by motion sensors, all you'll need to do is get the unexpect tricker treaters near the box for it to start shaking with the fog machine and mp3 player inside, you'll be sure to get a nice scare out of the kids this year. Read more to watch a video of the Monster in a Box! 

Posted on 08/14 at 11:17 am
Posted in: Featured Article

The Inner Workings of Rock Golem

September 2014 Shannon Chappell

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been taking things apart and putting them back together; sometimes right, sometimes wrong, blowing fuses, and generally being intensely curious. I would always brag that there was nothing I owned which I didn't take apart to see how it worked. I never had much help or support, so I started teaching myself, finding unique ways to overcome problems for my builds through the years. About a year ago, I decided it was time to crawl out from under my rock and show the world what I was making ...

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been taking things apart and putting them back together; sometimes right, sometimes wrong, blowing fuses, and generally being intensely curious. I would always brag that there was nothing I owned which I didn't take apart to see how it worked. I never had much help or support, so I started teaching myself, finding unique ways to overcome problems for my builds through the years. About a year ago, I decided it was time to crawl out from under my rock and show the world what I was making ...

So, without further adieu, I introduce my Steampunk-inspired Rock Golem from the depths of middle Earth (a.k.a., my basement work room). This colossus measures in at 12 feet tall and weighs around 300 pounds. He is primarily built out of mattress foam over a PVC pipe skeleton.

My Golem has an impressive list of features:

• Articulated head with servo-actuated/smoke-spewing jaws, and Larson Scanner eyes.
• Right limb hand manipulator.
• Left limb dynamically-controlled spinning energy weapon.
• A working intricate chest cavity geartrain.
• Several hundred LEDs split among several lighting effect systems.
• Fully autonomous; powered by a 12V8Ahr SLA battery in each foot.
• Wearable as a fully walking costume. An operator enters via the back panel, locks into ski boot stilts, and assumes (almost) full control of this 100% self-sufficient costume.

Skeleton of the Golem. The back hatch where the operator gets inside.


Underlying Technology: Power management and switching circuits, multicolor LED lighting, microcontrollers for sequencing and complex effect synchronization, sound effect triggering, and radio signal remote control via gesture and motion detection.

Alternate Uses: The power management circuits and LED lighting systems could be useful in solar power systems, offgrid power areas, and educational green energy models. Using microcontrollers to sequence or create complex reactions to input states can be useful in building alarm systems, monitoring water levels, or creating lighting macros for stage use. Radio control and motion sense systems such as the one used here could be adapted to detect a medical state (e .g., horizontal orientation could mean the wearer was incapacitated and the radio system could alert a central station about this.

What did we miss? Do you have other ideas we may not have thought of? We are interested in how the technology showcased in articles may otherwise be applied. If you have ideas or comments, please send them to

FIGURE A. The Sorceress (Kayna Hardman) with her crystal chest and arm bracelet, wirelessly controlling the Golem.

Behind All Great Men

Rock Golem comes with its very own Sorceress (Figure A). One of the myths of the Golem is that it is brought to life by a magical person. In this instance, the Sorceress molded the Golem from the Earth and detritus around her, including rocks, machine parts, glass, and wood. This Sorceress also directly controls parts of the Golem via gesture command, activating Golem’s chest gears by pressing her own chest piece. She’s also in charge of his armament, controlling the spinning crystal energy weapon by raising her own arm and making a spinning motion with her fingers.

“Why did you make this?” is the most common question I get. I had seen big costumes at events before, but I thought I could go bigger. I built it particularly for the 2013 Calgary Entertainment Exposition, but due to its size, I was denied permission to have it walk through the event. It sat in a storage room growing spider webs until I was approached by Shannon Hoover from the Calgary Mini Maker Faire, who brought us out to the light of day. Ever since, we’ve been delighting large costume fans.


Sketches, Designs, and the Unknown

FIGURE 1. A very early stage in the process of making the skeleton.

I’d like to say I have 3D models with accurate measurements and blueprints, but I just kind of do things on the fly. So, in the instance of my Golem, I knew what I wanted as far as the height and rock-like appearance. Other than that, I made it up as I went along. The first step was to take a physical outline of the person who would be piloting it (not me) by having them stand on buckets against a wall. Tracing this general shape onto on old bed sheet gave me an initial height of approximately 10’6”, so I started building a skeleton to this size (Figure 1). As with any adolescent, my Golem grew a bit during his youth, adding another 18 inches to make an adult size of 12’ tall. I would do some general drawings, mainly so I wouldn’t forget ideas I came up with the night before.

What it Takes to Make a Golem

Lots and lots of stubbornness! You will need this as you spend weeks on end, up to the wee hours cutting up mattress after mattress into rocks, shaping them, painting them, and decorating them (Figure 2). Leaving the artistic stuff aside, just learning the electronics to make him come alive was quite a task for me. I am a novice when it comes to electronics, but I do have a very strong desire to learn. Most of what I know comes from years of taking things apart, hacking kid’s toys, owning a copy of Forrest Mims’ Getting Started in Electronics, and plenty of trial and error.

So, this is basically my story of how I hacked the Golem’s electronics to life. Although I got it working with tenacity and determination, I knew I wanted to make it better and more reliable. So, I got some help from Solarbotics Ltd., who is also here in Calgary with us.

To make Rock Golem what I envisioned, I needed a gameplan. I sat down with Solarbotics, and we documented all the systems I had put together — including power systems and labelling all the wiring (see Figure 3) — and what my wish list was for improvements. After prioritizing these upgrades (we were on a tight time schedule), Solarbotics’ president, Dave Hrynkiw pinned down the new control structure and what the features were (Figure 4). Although my hacked electronics worked, they were twitchy and untunable. We decided on splitting the 15 lighting effects between two of Solarbotics’ Ardweeny/Double Rainbow controllers and three SparkFun Pro Minis.

FIGURE 2. Cutting the foam rocks and fitting them together. FIGURE 3. Breaking down the electrical systems for Solarbotics. FIGURE 4. Figuring out what systems to tie together, what voltages to make common, and what subsystems were a priority.


What it Takes to Make a Golem Walk

The best place to start is at the very foundation: the skeleton. Engineering a 12 foot, 300 pound costume to walk with no mechanical aid was a “feat” to say the least Figure 5). (I’m proud to report that the Golem never fell once.) For the frame, I had to come up with something strong, yet light and malleable. Being that my background is in building maintenance, I decided PVC pex pipe would be the best to use.

This led to many days of bending, shaping, gluing, and screwing together pieces of pipe until I had the full skeleton of the Golem created (see Figure 6).The full extent of work that went into the engineering of the skeleton was quite long, but what I did was to study how the human skeleton works and transfer the concepts to the Golem (Figure 7). This was actually harder than I thought it would be due to the size and the fact that someone less than half its height had to walk Rock Golem around.

After trying to use assisted walking devices such as hydraulics on the legs (which only made him lose balance), we came up with a technique where the operator was able to successfully walk the Golem around while turning his head and moving his arm and hand.

The biggest obstacle in the build process of the skeleton was attaching the energy crystal weapon which was much heavier than the rest of the costume. For this, I created strengthened joints all up the arm and upper chest to distribute the weight evenly over the upper body. This left him very front heavy though, so I designed a ratchet system spinal cord that connected his upper shoulders to one of his feet creating a core of balance, then used the Golem’s own weight to balance him.


FIGURE 5. Walking down the hallway. The walls helped keep the Golem from falling. FIGURE 6. The Golem skeleton from behind. FIGURE 7. The operator in the foot stilts, taking baby Golem steps at first.


LEDs — It’s an Abusive Relationship

I learned my first hard lesson on the use of current-limiting resistors. Initially, I ran two wires to every LED and many more back to a single resistor. This created a rat’s nest of wiring and LED grids that were power hogs that created substantial heat in the few current-limiting resistors.

Torso LEDs

FIGURE 8. Lighting tests on the leg to see what the best way to utilize the LED strips was.

There is well over 50 linear feet of red LED strips mounted among the Golem’s internals. Each strip is cut into four-LED sections, then re-wired back together to create a single glowing effect in the cracks between the rocks. It was a very long process, but well worth the effort (Figure 8). The LED strips originally ran back to a standard 44-option controller (the white ones that come with most LED strips) which allowed me to create a very nice pulsing lava effect. This same method controlled the tubes on the chest, but at a slightly different frequency. All the protruding crystals have an amber LED under them.

Rock Golem’s upper back housed a small tube-shaped power cell hacked from a dollar store toy (dollar stores are where I get most of my hackable electronics). I also added wire mesh grids to give more depth and mechanical integration to the rocks. Under each grid were plastic red emergency exit signs, backlighted with flickering LEDs from electronic tea candles.

The glowing letters on the collar were created by carving them in the foam, filling them with hot glue, then embedding approximately 50 LEDs. This was the first place that I appreciated the benefit of series-wired LEDs rather than parallel ones.

The Crystal Energy Weapon

This is the centerpiece of the Golem (see Figures 9 and 10). It is designed to spin the outer three blades around a central “power core.” The weapon’s power core light show consists of a column of 14 rings of eight LEDs each, surrounded by an array of individual LEDs illuminating the edge crystals. We split the 14 rings into two sets of seven pairs, with output 1 driving rings one and eight; output 2 driving rings two and nine, etc. Each ring was powered by its own N0106 FET, so each output drove two FET gates.

The original plan was to show the weapon “charging” via the rings pulsing sequentially in increasing frequency, but until that animation was ready, I set it for a steady “on” which was a bad idea — 112 low-efficiency orange LEDs draw substantial power. An input was connected to an RC1 output to receive an “Animation Start” command, causing the ring sequencing to increase from a slow single-ring climbing pulse, to a more rapid one involving increasingly more simultaneously-on rings.

FIGURE 9. The Golem's energy crystal weapon. The three outside blades rotate faster and faster, creating a pulsing charge in the center crystals getting it ready to fire. FIGURE 10. Power lines that feed the crystals and the gear system which spins the outer blades.

FIGURE 11. The interior of the weapon arm, with the drill mounted and made accessible to the operator.

Don’t try to run four amps through a single strand of telephone wire! It glows and melts every wire in the bundle next to it! For that matter, avoid using telephone wire in any circuit where there is a chance it will flex — this stuff is brittle.

The mechanics behind the spinning outer blades were based on the bearing system from a ceiling fan. The effect I hoped to achieve was that as they spun faster, they would create an electrical charge that would seem to power the crystals. I used a 12 VDC drill mounted to a hand-cut wooden 3:1 gear reduction system that was attached to the ceiling fan assembly. The drill’s gearmotor assembly was cut from the handle/trigger portion, and motor wires were extended.

With the trigger easily hand-reachable, the pilot could slowly pull the trigger and have the blades ramp up to full speed (see Figure 11). This was effective and worked quite well, but the drill gearmotor was overloaded and pulled lots of power, rapidly killing the batteries. This was corrected later with the help of Solarbotics when we replaced the drill with a much higher geared unit.

Figure12. the sorceress’ costume pressing the center button of the chest crystals activates the golem's chest gears; lifting the crystal bracelet activates the spinning weapon blade.

The Sorceress

The Sorceress’ initial role was to hand-guide the Golem since pilot visibility was very low. As I explored the idea of the Sorceress, we wanted her to be in more control of the Golem. So, I built her a whole new costume featuring remote control functions. The original design used a highly decorated LED closet light dome connected to an IR transmitter circuit hidden in the back of the dress. The IR LED was tucked in among the crystals of her center chestpiece, with the wire woven back to the rear electronics (see Figure 12). The dome chestpiece was retrofitted with harvested limit switches from a VCR, so a push to the chestpiece would signal the Golem pilot it was time to move.

IR communication seemed like a good idea, but the receiver circuit in the Golem had a hard time actually getting the signal in a dense electrically-noisy environment. It worked sporadically at best — often self-activating — so it was back to the drawing board.

Communication ended up being a straightforward 433 kHz four-channel key fob setup. We were always in close range (less than 3M/10’) for strong signal communication, and it left two spare channels for other potential “enchantments.” We wanted to use a Synapse wireless RF100 2.4 GHz radio for a “bulletproof” signal, but time constraints led to this solution which seems adequate for now. Lesson learned with radios: Always check your transmitter batteries first before doing any other debugging!

The Sorceress’ collar is an important accent to her costume, featuring an ATtiny45-based “FireFly” LED board powered by a small 7.4V Lipoly cell (regulated down to 5V), running the fabulous “flickering candle” code by Park Hays. It drives 34 LEDs through a single FET to create a very convincing flame flicker.

Figure 13. Interior of the head, getting the lighting all in place Figure 14. Shaping the face out of some scraps of sheet metal i had laying around. Figure 15. The electronics of the face, and the pulley system that activates the jaw.

The Head of the Golem

I wasn’t sure on how to approach the head. I had built one out of rock, but found it was not suited to the rest of the Golem, so I decided to go the route of a machine-like face merged into the rock (Figures 13 and 14). For lighting, the head had some pulsating cracks which were tied into the body circuits. Some LED circuits made the mouth glow orange and the cylon-style eye glow yellow, but I wanted more life in the face, so I added a Larsen scanner. I had a chaser beacon that came out of the lights that are stuck on the roofs of utility vehicles. I hacked this by tracing the circuits and adding on longer wires so I could put all the LEDs in a row. I also had to change out the resistors on the board to suit the LEDs I was using (Figures 15 and 16).

Figure 16. The hacked chaser beacon.

Now all that was left to do was to figure out how to get the LEDs to create a line of light across the middle of the eye instead of the round bursts of light. For this, I took a acrylic rod and placed all the LEDs behind it. The result was the LED light was refracted out the other side as a flat beam of light. When they went off in sequence, I had a scanner. I wasn’t quite done because I also wanted to have the jaw open and close. Try as we might to run a servo off the Double-Rainbow 2 controller, all the PWM channels were busy, and we couldn’t trick it into easily bit-banging a servo drive signal without causing issues elsewhere. So, we grabbed another Pro Mini just to run the jaw animations.

At the time, I was not really familiar on how servos worked, so I came up with a very rudimentary system of pulleys, lamp parts, string, and eye loops with which I was able to control the jaw via the operator’s head. This was done by creating a spring-activated rod with a salad bowl that came down from the head of the Golem. When the operator pus his head in the bowl and pushes up and down, the jaw would open and close (this was later changed to a servo; refer to Figure 17). The head was mounted on a lazy Susan, so when the operator put his head in the bowl he could also turn the Golem’s head side to side. I decided to put in some smoke effects as well, and by luck I came across a device called the Dragon Puffer which was used to detect drafts in houses by releasing smoke. I drilled a hole in the bottom of the lazy Susan, mounted a hose, and attached the Dragon Puffer at the other end so the Golem “breathed” smoke. The only problem with this was that the smoke could not make it up the tube. So, I took apart a video card heatsink, removed the fan, and tied it into the tube, then connected a 9V battery with a temporary switch.

The Hand

There were not a lot of electronics here, but I created a large articulating hand using aircraft cable, PVC tubing, a cut-up tape measure, and latex tubing to create the movement of the fingers (see Figures 18 and 19). Since they were too large to be controlled individually, I had one lever that the operator would grasp and squeeze to open and close them all at once. This way, he could come up behind people, put his hand over their head and pretend to crush them.

Figure 17. Finished head with bowl attachment. Figure 18. The workings of the Golem's hand. Figure 19. Pulling the bar would make the hand open and close.


The Center Gear Chest Piece

Figure 20. The chest gears.
Figure 21. The back of the chest gears, and all the system emergency shutdown switches (before the Solarbotics upgrade).

Through the years, I have been taking apart hundreds of printers and saving all the gears. So, I painted a bunch of them in a brass color, aged them up, and mounted them on a piece of plexi (see Figure 20). To drive all the gears, I used a 12V motor I got from a local electronics surplus store and a vacuum cleaner belt. To light it up, I wanted hot spots of light behind the gears. I used chicken wire mesh as a grid and attached 50+ LEDs behind the plexi to give a warm uneven light.

Figure 22. Everyone was just as amazed with the inside as with the outside!

In the center of the gears is a central core power cell which also lights up and pulses. To achieve this pulse, I hacked another chaser beacon and placed it behind a glass jar filled with orange scented oil beads. As each LED  goes through its programmed rotation, it reflects off all the beads making very interesting patterns (Figure 21).

The Cockpit

Everything converges in the “cockpit” of the body. Having very little exposure to the “maker” world, I thought it was best to hide the electronics and the workings of the Golem. I couldn’t have been more wrong (Figure 22). It turned out everyone — no matter what their interests in electronics were — wanted to see how it worked. The insanity of the inside with flashing lights, hundreds of feet of wire, and the fact that someone got in there was very fascinating.

During the wiring process, I learned to mount things so they were accessible, label things properly (which Solarbotics greatly appreciated), put proper connectors on, have a proper soldering technique, and so on. I also put in around 25 pole and temporary switches to be able to shut down different systems in case of shorts or to conserve power. There was also a system of fans to help with the heat of the costume. Amazingly, the Golem never had a problem because everything worked as it should.

Golem 2.0

Solarbotics “sponsored” the upgrade for all of the electronics and continues to work with me as I improve my Golem. As mentioned, I come from an industrial background where black is the live wire and white is neutral. Solarbotics comes from a low voltage background where red is live and black is ground. Let’s just say that we discovered how robust Atmel makes their microcontrollers against reverse voltage damage that melts wires together.

The Double Rainbow controllers were originally designed as Arduino-compatible/six-channel high current drivers for powering two independent RGB LED strips (R/G/B * 2), plus offered a bunch of Ground/Voltage/Signal (GVS) pins for wiring up controls. They proved to be almost perfect for the job, with handy three-wire I/O connections and screw-down terminals. Most features were wired through the cockpit control panel with beefy toggle switches, so the pilot could toggle effects for best battery life or debugging purposes.

To sum this all up, at the end of the day what it takes to build one of these guys is a good inventory of discarded treasures, an understanding partner, and sheer stubborn determination to finish no matter what. Or, more simply stated as Thomas Edison once said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”  NV

Posted on 08/14 at 9:29 am
Posted in: Developing Perspectives

Happy Halloween

September 2014 Vern Graner

So, you may have noticed that the issue currently in your hands is a bit ... different. We're trying something new — something maybe even ... scary! A Halloween spectacular so exciting that even our magazine cover is wearing a costume! Okay, so yes, we realize it's only September, but we're starting extra early this year. We want to make sure you have ample time to ramp up your Halloween and act on the cool ideas and projects in this issue!

Wait a sec! Is this issue all Halloween instead of electronics? Nope. We're still Everything for Electronics. It says so right there on the cover. And you know what? From our (somewhat biased) perspective, Halloween is all about electronics. Electronics unifies the entire issue and every article in it.

For example, in the article, “What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?”, Len Shelton of Probotix uses a stepper motor operated/computer controlled CNC machine to demonstrate 2.5D CNC: a process where manual finishing is combined with pocketing and profiling operations to create the look of 3D contoured parts. In “Automating Your Haunt Using PICAXE Microcontrollers,” Steve Koci gives you a guided tour to using the PICAXE microcontroller for randomized servo motions, reading sensors, and creating eerie animations.

In “Build the Peek-a-Boo Ghost,” Kevin Goodwin shows how to make this cute animatronic desktop decoration using only a couple of servo motors, an inexpensive microcontroller, and a handful of readily available parts. Jamie Cunningham reveals the secrets behind the ever popular “Monster in a Box,” showing how the Propeller microprocessor is well suited to driving relays, stepper motors, and sound effects all at once.

Jake Morrison takes you “Behind the Boo With Scare for a Cure” and shows us the tech it takes to put on a consistent, professional level haunt night after night. Don Powell provides the long awaited guide to building “Ruby's Flame” — an extremely realistic safe flame effect using a modified PC power supply, high brightness LEDs, surplus cooling fans, and a bit of silk. Shannon Chappell shows you “The Inner Workings of the Rock Golem” and tells you what it takes to make a monster, while Graham Best describes how classic animation techniques pioneered by Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbera can be put to use with microcontrollers and LED lights. 

Maurice Cedeno tells the tale of his “Crypt Creature” — a prop that displays an amazing amount of animation from just a few relays and a single drive motor, while Marvin Niebuhr uses his “Trio de los Muertos” prop to show how just a couple of motors and a bit of psychology can create the perception of purposeful motion.

And that's not all! We've included a Halloween event calendar to keep you in the know about spooktacular events year round; “Haunting 101: The Basics of Boo” to help you get started applying your electronics know-how to Halloween projects; and even a guest editorial from  industry icon Leonard Pickel. It's all here ... from the Nuts to the Volts!

So, to recap, no we are not becoming a Halloween magazine. It's still us behind the spooky mask! We're simply expanding to embrace a new hobby field that has the same interests and needs we do; namely, using electronics to make cool things. We really hope that you get a charge out of this month's issue. We spent a lot of time and put in extra effort to lure in new writers, find amazing stories, document cool projects, and showcase some new advertisers. This year, you really have no excuse for not making it the best Halloween ever! Truth is we've been extra busy little monsters and have even held back a few surprises for next month. Hint: A much-missed column is about to make a triumphant return and a popular project is coming back bigger, better, and stronger than ever!

We hope you have as much fun reading this month's magazine as we had making it, and would love to hear your comments. Feel free to contact me directly at

For now, get out there and get started making this the most electrifying Halloween ever!

Posted on 08/14 at 11:47 am
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

The Arc-Controller

September 2014

Kickstarter: The Arc-Controller is a bridge to bring high Amp motor control to your projects. Arc-Controller is capable of variable speed and direction control over any two DC motors or a single Stepper Motor, while supplying high level of continuous current (up to 43 Amps).

The Arc-Controller is compatible with about any Arduino, or other micro controller. It runs an ATMega328, and is user programmable via the Arduino IDE. Thanks to the ATMega you the option to run it as a standalone micro controller or slaved by any other device. Giving you the ability to push the limits of what has been done and change the world.

The Arc-Controller Special Features: 

  • Affordable 40 Amp Motor Control
  • Stepper Motor Control
  • Stakable
  • User Programmable
  • Standalone Capable
  • Double Stackable with any other shield
  • Reverse Polarity Protection
  • Built in Current and Temp. Fail Safes
  • 5 to 27 Volts Input
  • Open Source
  • Proudly Made in the U.S.A



To back this project, visit their Kickstarter

Posted on 08/14 at 2:42 pm
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

Open Source Propeller 1

August 2014

Parallax Inc. has released their source code design files for the Propeller 1 (P8X32A) multicore microcontroller among the 13,000+ attendees of the DEF CON 22 Conference in Las Vegas where their chip is also featured on the conference’s electronic badge. Parallax has long believed in openly sharing product designs for the benefit of its users and the development community.

The Propeller 1 (P8X32A) is now a 100% open multicore microcontroller, including all of the hardware and tools: Verilog code, Spin interpreter, PropellerIDE and SimpleIDE programming tools, and compilers. The Propeller 1 may be the most open chip in its class.

We have decided to provide these free open source files for the following reasons:

  • To inspire others to learn and create — that has always been the key mission of Parallax. Every inventor, engineer, or hobbyist can identify the inspirations that shaped their careers. We hope to inspire others the same way we’ve been inspired.
  • To equip and support higher education. Parallax university customers have expressed interest in using our core in their FPGA programming courses. Parallax distributors and universities have asked about modifying the Verilog to add more pins or to simply study the design.
  • To open up the Propeller design to community contributors. Our compilers, programming tools, languages, and some of the Propeller 2 design features were created by the community. Supporting and honoring their efforts is a top priority for Parallax.
  • Above all, we hope that our free software will give you the freedom to innovate with Parallax!

Read more about the Propeller 1 Open Source at!

Posted on 08/14 at 3:04 pm
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

Kickstarter: tinyTesla

August 2014

tinyTesla is a little Tesla coil that shoots sparks, plays MIDI tracks, and exercises your soldering skills. This coil kit is designed to be easy to build and assemble for anyone with basic soldering skills. Shooting lightning and playing music using electricity itself is an exciting way to learn about physics and electronics! Go check out their successfully funded Kickstarter with 17 days left to go! 

tinyTesla is a Solid-State Tesla Coil (SSTC), which has a non-resonant primary and a resonant secondary. Because the feedback loop locks on to the resonant frequency of the secondary, not the primary, tinyTesla is insensitive to its surroundings, allowing you to safely pull arcs off the coil with a metal object (pulling an arc with your finger will result in a nasty burn and is not recommended!).

oneTeslaTS is a Dual-Resonant Solid State Tesla Coil (DRSSTC), which uses a tuned primary circuit for improved performance. This design allows the coil to efficiently produce long sparks (nearly two feet!) using a compact driver and a minimum of power.


Both coils are powered by IGBT half-bridge inverters running on a 340V bus, and are available in 110V and 220V versions.


tinyTesla: Clown Music



Posted on 07/14 at 10:34 am
Posted in: Developing Perspectives

The DIY Differential

August 2014 Bryan Bergeron

When shopping recently for a large LED digital clock, I was caught in a common dilemma: Do I go for the inexpensive import for $15 or spring for the $90 DIY kit? In this case, the issue was time — I didn't have time to build the kit and needed the large digit clock for an upcoming project. So, I went with the $15 option.

The Chinese-manufactured clock performed flawlessly ... for about a week. Then, the display was nothing but random LED segments. When I cracked open the case, I found nothing in the way of user-serviceable parts. Everything was soldered in place, including the main IC which looked like a spider epoxied to the motherboard. So, there went $15 plus a lot of time and trouble. I ended up using a different time-keeping system forthe project, and all was well.

After the crunch, I revisited the world of large digit LED clocks. This time, I went for the $90 kit. After three hours of soldering and a bit of sanding, the clock was ready for mounting. Although I haven't exercised the option of reprogramming the clock to, say, a countdown timer, it's only a matter of Arduino programming. 

Plus, there's a small breadboard area on the clock's motherboard. Moreover, I know that if the clock suddenly dies, I can resuscitate it by replacing the failed components and reloading the Arduino program if necessary.

Is this to say that relatively expensive kits are the only way to go? No — sometimes you just have to go with off the shelf, affordable, and sometimes cheap options. When you do have to decide, just make an informed decision. Is there something to learn from, say, building your next clock, radio, timer, LED display, or other circuit, or is your time spent better elsewhere?

It's a personal choice, and onethat depends on your level of mastery in a given area — and, of, course, budget. No need to twiddle with an LED project if you're looking to learn about digital signal processing (DSP) techniques. It’s better to pick an analog-to-digital converter project.

By the way, the $90 DIY clock is still running months after the $15 clock's demise. If and when the DIY clock dies, I'm sure I'll have the means to repair it. Sure, I could keepbuying $15 clocks, but I'd have to deal with the uncertainty of the cheap versions failing at the worst possible moment, and the moral implications of constantly contributing to landfills. Keep building! NV

Posted on 07/14 at 10:35 am
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

It’s Official: Intel® Galileo Gen 2 has launched!

Combining the simplicity of the Arduino* development environment with the performance of Intel® technology and the capabilities of a full Linux* software stack, Intel® Galileo Gen 2 is the latest in a line of fully featured prototyping and development platforms designed specifically for makers, students, educators, and DIY electronics enthusiasts.

Intel® Galileo is Arduino-certified. Providing users with a fully open source hardware and software development environment, the Intel Galileo board complements and extends the Arduino line of products to deliver more advanced compute functionality to those familiar with Arduino prototyping tools. The Intel Galileo development board is designed to be hardware-, software-, and pin-compatible with a wide range of Arduino Uno* R3 shields and additionally allows users to incorporate Linux firmware calls in their Arduino sketch programming.

Based on the Intel® Quark™ SoC X1000, a 32-bit Intel® Pentium® processor-class system on a chip (SoC), the genuine Intel® processor and native I/O capabilities of the Intel Galileo board deliver great performance, and a broad spectrum of hardware peripheral and software support to those looking for an affordable single board controller that will bring their project ideas to life quickly and easily.

Key features

  • Intel Quark SoC X1000 application processor, a 32-bit, single core, single-thread, Pentium® instruction set architecture (ISA)-compatible CPU, operating at speeds up to 400 MHz.
  • Support for a wide range of industry standard I/O interfaces, including a full-sized mini-PCI Express* slot, 100 Mb Ethernet port, Micro-SD slot, USB host port, and USB client port.
  • 256 MByte DDR3, 512 KByte embedded SRAM, 8 Mbyte NOR Flash, and 8 Kbit EEPROM standard on the board, plus support for MicroSD card up to 32 MB.
  • Hardware-/pin-compatibility with a wide range of Arduino Uno R3 shields.
  • Programmable through the Arduino integrated development environment (IDE) that is supported on Microsoft Windows*, Mac OS*, and Linux host operating systems.
  • Support for Yocto 1.4 Poky Linux release.

What's new with Intel Galileo Gen 2

  • 6-pin 3.3V USB TTL UART header replaces 3.5mm jack RS-232 console port for Linux debug. New 6-pin connector mates with standard FTDI* USB serial cable (TTL-232R-3V3) and popular USB-to-Serial breakout boards. 12 GPIOs now fully native for greater speed and improved drive strength.
  • 12-bit pulse-width modulation (PWM) for more precise control of servos and smoother response.
  • Console UART1 can be redirected to Arduino* headers in sketches, eliminating the need for soft-serial in many cases.
  • 12V Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) capable (PoE module installation required).
  • Power regulation system changed to accept power supplies from 7V to 15V.


Read more about the Galileo Gen 2.


Posted on 07/14 at 10:56 am
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

New Product Launch! Introducing Raspberry Pi Model B+

July 2014

Say Hello to the new Raspberry Pi Model B+. The B+ is not the Raspberry Pi 2, but rather just a replacement version for the Raspberry Pi. The B+ now offers two more USB 2.0 ports, a microSD card reader and 14 more GPIO pins, making a total of 40 on the board. With the new B+ you're also going to be using much less power, so those using a battery pack  or for mobile projects you should see a significant benefit. But that's not all. Watch the video clip to learn more. Go order yours today! 

The Model B+ uses the same BCM2835 application processor as the Model B. It runs the same software, and still has 512MB RAM; but James and the team have made the following key improvements:

  • More GPIO. The GPIO header has grown to 40 pins, while retaining the same pinout for the first 26 pins as the Model B.
  • More USB. We now have 4 USB 2.0 ports, compared to 2 on the Model B, and better hotplug and overcurrent behaviour.
  • Micro SD. The old friction-fit SD card socket has been replaced with a much nicer push-push micro SD version.
  • Lower power consumption. By replacing linear regulators with switching ones we’ve reduced power consumption by between 0.5W and 1W.
  • Better audio. The audio circuit incorporates a dedicated low-noise power supply.

Neater form factor. We’ve aligned the USB connectors with the board edge, moved composite video onto the 3.5mm jack, and added four squarely-placed mounting holes.
If you’re interested in precise measurements, or want to find out what the new GPIO does, check out the diagrams below.

Posted on 07/14 at 9:06 am
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

Kickstarter: Open Analog

Open Analog is an organization dedicated to exciting makers about analog hardware. They make popular ICs into transistor level kits! If you want to get your hands on one, you can back their Kickstarter project. 

SevenFortyFun Op-Amp Kit

The first Open Source analog IC kit from Open Analog has been created, assembled, and verified. We call it the SevenFortyFun and it is a transistor level op amp kit. You can finally get the chance to understand whats going on inside those ICs! Now we need your help to proto the next revision (I gotta eat somehow!). This Kickstarter campaign is to raise money in order to print the first batch of PCBs and order parts for production volume. Changes to the board include:

            - Component outline changes

            - Trace rerouting

            - Holes for standoffs

            - Make it pin compatible (number wise) with a 741 OpAmp

While this may not seem like significant changes the time and cost of this endeavor is too steep for me to conquer alone! With your help we will be able to bring SevenFortyFun Rev 2.0 to life!

In addition, your funding will also back the next kits in our product line! Kits on the drawing board include:

              - 555 Timer

              - Low Dropout Regulator

              - Switching Regulator

              - Suggest one! email

Posted on 07/14 at 11:02 am
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